For one night, Jewish Image upstages Oscars

los angeles | The carpet wasn’t exactly red — in fact, it was blue — but the requisite chicken dinner was, indeed, on hand last week.

All this — and bread baskets for making hamotzi, the Jewish blessing over bread.

Oct. 11 was a night for Jews, and those portraying them, to make news as the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Los Angeles Entertainment Industry Council held the fourth annual Jewish Image Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The awards were established to recognize outstanding contemporary creative work that transcends Jewish stereotypes and clichés in American film and television, and that promotes Jewish values, history and tradition.

The event was hosted by comedian Jeffrey Tambor of the hit television series “Arrested Development.” Tambor also received the award for portraying a male Jewish television character for his role in the show.

Tambor portrays George Bluth Sr., who is doing time in prison for shifty practices. While there, George supposedly discovers God and becomes an Orthodox Jew, albeit with a limited knowledge of Jewish practices.

“So many people have got behind these awards, and they promote the [Jewish] people’s self-image,” Tambor said.

Kristin Davis received an award for her portrayal of Charlotte York, who converts from Episcopalianism to Judaism in HBO’s “Sex and the City.” Davis said playing Charlotte as a Jew was the “most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire career.”

As a “Southern girl with no religion,” she said she was delighted to be so warmly embraced by the Jewish community, noting an article in the Jewish press announcing that “our Charlotte” was receiving an award.

Tony Kushner’s HBO film “Angels in America,” based on his play of the same name, won two awards — for Ben Shenkman’s portrayal of Louis Ironson, a gay, secular, assimilated Jew who rediscovers his roots when called upon to recite Kaddish — and excellence in a narrative film.

Excellence in a television episode went to “The Simpsons: Today I Am a Clown,” written by Joel Cohen, in which Krusty the Clown goes back to his old Hebrew school after discovering he can’t be included on Springfield’s Jewish Walk of Fame because he never had a bar mitzvah.

Excellence in a documentary film went to Menachem Daum’s “Hiding and Seeking.” Fearing that his fervently religious sons are becoming religiously intolerant, Daum, a resident of Borough Park, N.Y., takes them on a journey from America to Israel and eventually to Poland, where they meet the non-Jews who hid Daum’s father during the Holocaust.

The cross-cultural understanding award went to Joe Fab’s documentary “Paper Clips,” about middle-school children in Whitwell, Tenn., who in 1998 began collecting 6 million paper clips in honor of the Jews killed in the Holocaust. “Paper Clips” is set to be released by Miramax next month.

Given the enormous worldwide response to the project, citizens of Whitwell — a predominantly white, Christian town of 1,800 people — expanded their horizons by meeting with Holocaust survivors.

Fab said he’s asked a lot whether he’s Jewish and said he now uses Charlie Chaplin’s response: “Alas, I do not have that honor.” However, he said, the Holocaust is “about all of us, it’s about humanity.”

The major awards of the night went to Caryn Mandabach, Mark Gordon and Josh Schwartz.

Mandabach, a television sitcom producer, received the Morningstar Commission Marlene Marks Woman of Inspiration Award for her three decades’ worth of work, which includes hits such as “The Cosby Show,” “Grace Under Fire,” “Roseanne” and “Third Rock From the Sun.”

Gordon, a veteran producer of more than 50 films and television shows, including “Saving Private Ryan,” “Speed” and “The Patriot,” received the Tisch Industry Leadership Award.

Gordon said he has been honored to produce shows that are close to his heart, particularly the movie he directed — “Nothing but the Sun” — about the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of children.

But the buzz in the ballroom was over Schwartz, the 28-year-old wunderkind creator and executive producer of the hit Fox drama “The OC.” “The OC” centers on the Cohen family, assimilated Jews in Orange County.

The youngest person in network history to create and run a network series, Schwartz was presented with the first Creative Spirit Award.

Schwartz thanked his rabbi and the foundation for honoring his “vast body of work” — joking that next year it would be difficult to find someone to present with a similar award.

This year’s awards coincided with the start of the 350th anniversary celebration of Jewish life in America, and the top 10 Jewish films of all time were announced, as determined by a nationwide poll. “Schindler’s List’ took the top spot.